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March 07, 2005

The "Touch" Game - Part 3

Now for the fun part! Did you ever think that the "Touch" game would work with a newborn foal, too?

After I had learned about the targeting concept from clicker training, I adapted it into my training routine. Even though I was not really comfortable with using a clicker yet, I taught my donkeys (and the neighbor's yearling horses) how to target or "touch" my hand or other objects with their nose, and rewarded them with praise and a treat, fresh grass, or rubs and scratches (without using a clicker).

Shortly thereafter I bought 3 new mammoth jennets. I taught all of them the "touch" game in short order. One of them, Lily, foaled soon after we brought them home. Now I really didn't think the "touch" game would be very easy to teach to a newborn foal. Up until that point I had been using food treats to reward the behavior, and since the newborn foal only nursed from her mother, I couldn't entice her with food treats yet.

But I had a dilemma. My baby jennet, Ellie, was touchy on her face and nose from the time she was born, even though we handled her before she could even stand up. She really loved getting her back, chest, tummy, tail, and everywhere except her head rubbed and scratched, but would pull away anytime we touched her head.

She was great about letting us handle her legs and feet, and let us pick up her hooves like a pro. She was also fine with us handling in between both her front legs and back legs, and was not at all touchy except on her face.

So, since she loved attention and scratches so much, I thought I might be able to teach her to "touch" my hand and reward her with scratches. I thought this might help her overcome her touchy nose problem. Since she had mainly been getting her meals from her mother, I couldn't use food treats to help teach her to touch, but the scratches and back rubs were enough of a reward that she quickly caught on.

By only 3 1/2 weeks old, she already had the "touch" game down pat. It was so amusing to watch her when we came out to her pasture. She would come over for attention, and promptly nudges our outstretched hand, and then turn with her neck and shoulder to us for scratches. I was telling my mom that Ellie had already learned to use the "magic word"!

Using the "touch" game really helped Ellie to quickly learn that it was okay for us to handle her ears, pole, cheeks and face. Back rubs and scratches were enough of a reward for her that we didn't have to use food treats at all.

Here is a picture of Ellie playing "touch" with one of her human friends.

It's amazing to see how eager donkeys, mules and horses are to learn and how fast they pick up new tricks! So use your creativity to find new ways to let the "touch" game help you in training your critters!

Kristie Jorgensen

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Posted by Kristie Jorgensen at March 7, 2005 07:51 AM